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From Rwanda to Festival Fringe

Undergraduate grants from The SOURCE empower students to bring their research and creative visions to life. February 13 is the deadline for summer and 2020-21 grants.

Kat Eaton accompanied by her friends on the set of

Grant recipient Kat Eaton (back right) performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with friends (counterclockwise) Maddie Ince, Charlie Trowle and Anthony Hernandez.

The summer of 2019 was a notable season for Syracuse University undergraduates who received grants from The Syracuse Office for Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (The SOURCE). Scores of students scattered across the globe to engage in 48 original projects and returned to campus with inspiring stories to tell. (Application deadlines for summer and 2020-21 grants are fast approaching.)

Luis Lopez ’22, a School of Architecture student, spent six weeks in Rwanda on his research project, “Masonry as a Horizontal Surface.” Katelyn Eaton ’20 led a College of Visual and Performing Arts team to Scotland to perform an original play at Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. Both students received grants of $2,800 to complete their projects. “This was a great opportunity to experience another part of the world,” Lopez says.

Building Solutions from Raw Materials

Luis Lopez in Rwanda

School of Architecture student Luis Lopez mixed locally sourced materials in Rwanda to create affordable roofing tiles.

Lopez’s project researched ways to build inexpensive roofing systems for Rwanda’s poor population. He developed his project proposal under the mentorship of Professor Roger Hubeli, whose firm, APTUM Architecture, uses cement in many of its architectural projects. Lopez focused on making two roof systems; one was a parabolic cement dome, and the other was an interlocking stabilized soil-block barrel vault.

“Because cement is very expensive in Rwanda, the cement in the concrete mix is partially replaced by other reactive materials,” Lopez explains. The substance he formulated combined locally sourced organic fibers, volcanic ash and cement. Six weeks of grueling work revealed that it is possible to make a vault from the interlocking blocks, but further reinforcement is needed to ensure safety.

Lopez worked near Kigali 10-12 hours a day with native Rwandans. “When we had downtime, we’d go to the canteen and have tea,” he says. “Just one of the six workers spoke English, so he served as translator. I wanted to get to know them.”

Lopez chose to attend Syracuse University on the recommendation of a friend who was enrolled in the School of Architecture. “He said Syracuse Architecture balances the teaching of design, theory and technology. Other schools focus more on the technical aspects,” Lopez says.

He is spending the Spring 2020 semester in Florence, Italy , and after graduation hopes to resume the research he started in Rwanda. The designs he created for his SOURCE project will remain there so the work he started can continue under Syracuse associate professor Yutaka Sho’s General Architecture Collaborative. “I’m interested in going back to Rwanda to work with different materials to be able to construct my own building,” Lopez says. “There are so many hurdles for young architects to design what they want. It can take years before you actually get to design a building to be constructed. Coming at it from a design-build approach makes it more feasible.”

Seizing a Dramatic Opportunity

Katelyn “Kat” Eaton ’20 came to Syracuse to study acting in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Department of Drama . “Everyone going into acting at my California high school knew about Syracuse,” she remembers. “The University has an absolutely wonderful program.”

Eaton’s SOURCE grant experience was quite different from Lopez’s but just as life changing. It supported a group effort by Eaton, Jack Fortin ’20 and Maddie Ince ’20, who together wrote “The Domestic,” a gig theater play that incorporates live music into the storyline. “We wanted to create theater with the same energy you’d find in a music concert audience,” Eaton says.

Fortin wrote the music and played guitar, while Ince was editor and front man. They all pitched in on production, with Charlie Towle ’22 as production assistant. Shelby Warren ’19 also served as a production assistant and was understudy to Ince. Anthony Hernandez ’20 played the bass, and journalist Kyle Smith was drummer.

Drama instructor Joe Whelan was the group’s faculty mentor. “He’s the reason we know about the Edinburgh Fringe,” Eaton explains. “He gave us a goldmine of advice and was a big help in the prep for the project—from looking over our press release to finding the right show insurance. We made it a goal to bring it to the Fringe and committed to a full run before we secured funding. We got incredibly lucky, and the SOURCE grant was a huge part of it,” Eaton says. “We had both independence and the comfort of knowing that we had our school supporting us.”

Eaton believes this experience adds a valuable dimension to their theater education. “We have a deeper understanding of theater outside our specific interest in performance. We had to do sound, lighting, production, marketing and problem solving,” she says. “It was hands-on learning with a live audience every single night,” she says.

Their reviews were stellar. “It was awesome! We got incredible audience feedback,” Eaton says. “They would stay to chat with us after the show. It was really lovely. And exhausting, and everything in between. We had one day off the entire month, but it was a wonderful, nonstop month. I’d do it again any day.”

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was published on .


The Syracuse University Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (The SOURCE) provides undergraduates with workshops and funding for independent and team-based research and creative projects. Academic year grants ($5,000) and summer grants ($2,800) are available.

Don’t miss SOURCE grant deadlines:

  • Feb. 13: Intent to Apply form due (required to be eligible for this application cycle)
  • Feb. 27: Application deadline

Register with The SOURCE and join the mailing list. The SOURCE office is located in 238 Bird Library. For more information, visit the website, call 315.443.2091 or e-mail

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